Martin Shkreli takes Fifth in front of Congress

(AP Photo)

Infuriating members of Congress, a smirking Martin Shkreli took the Fifth at a Capitol Hill hearing Thursday when asked about his jacking up of drug prices, then promptly went on Twitter and insulted his questioners as “imbeciles.”

The brash, 32-year-old entrepreneur who has been vilified as the new face of pharmaceutical-industry greed was summoned by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is investigating soaring prices for critical medicines.

Four times, he intoned: “On the advice of counsel, I invoke my Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and respectfully decline to answer your question.”

Lawmakers erupted. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the committee, all but told Shkreli to wipe the smile off his face.

“I call this money blood money … coming out of the pockets of hardworking Americans,” he said as Shkreli sat through the lecture.

“I know you are smiling, but I am very serious, sir,” Cummings said. “I truly believe you can become a force of tremendous good. All I ask is that you reflect on it. No, I don’t ask, I beg that you reflect on it. ”

The former hedge fund manager with a frat-boy swagger has been reviled in recent months for buying Daraprim, the only approved drug for a rare and sometimes deadly parasitic infection, and unapologetically raising its price more than fiftyfold.

Shkreli is out on $5 million bail after being arrested in New York in December on securities-fraud charges unrelated to the price increase.

Shkreli, wearing a sport jacket and open-collar shirt, was dismissed less than an hour into the hearing, but not before chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, shouted down a request by Shkreli’s attorney to speak. Lawmakers instead took turns denouncing his conduct and attitude.

Minutes after he left – and even before the hearing had ended – Shkreli thumbed his nose at the committee.

“Hard to accept that these imbeciles represent the people in our government,” the former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals tweeted.

Shkreli’s attorney Benjamin Brafman later said in his defense: “He meant no disrespect, but in truth, statements made by some of the members of the committee were wrong, unfair and difficult to listen to without responding.”

Shkreli calls himself “the world’s most eligible bachelor” and “the most successful Albanian to ever walk the face of this Earth.” He strums his guitar on YouTube and paid a reported $2 million for the only known copy of an album by the Wu-Tang Clan.

After Shkreli’s departure, Turing’s chief commercial officer and the interim CEO of Canada’s largest drugmaker, Valeant Pharmaceuticals, received a bipartisan lashing from the lawmakers.

Internal documents released by the committee show that Valeant and Turing have made a practice of buying and then dramatically raising prices for low-cost drugs given to patients with life-threatening conditions such as heart disease, AIDS and cancer.

Chaffetz, an admitted “conservative guy” who accepts that companies need to make profits, said he was disgusted. And Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., told them: “This is a scandal, an absolute abuse of power, an abuse of the pharmaceutical industry.”

With Shkreli mum, it was up to Turing’s Nancy Retzlaff to defend the Daraprim price rise. She said the company invests in research and development, as well as programs that help patients afford drugs. Turing tries to strike the right balance between those needs and rewarding shareholders, Retzlaff testified.

“I don’t believe my company has done anything wrong,” she said.

As early as last May, Turing planned to turn Daraprim into a $200-million-a-year drug by dramatically increasing its price, according to documents obtained by the committee. Turing bought the 60-year-old drug in August for $55 million.

Shkreli said in an email to one contact: “We raised the price from $1,700 per bottle to $75,000. Should be a very handsome investment for all of us.”

As for Valeant, documents indicate the company believed it could repeatedly raise the prices of the lifesaving heart drugs Nitropress and Isuprel without repercussions because the medicines are administered by hospitals, which are less price-sensitive than consumers.

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Remembering Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire

Born in 1941 in Memphis, Maurice White grew up in the Foot Homes projects and went to Booker T. Washington High School.

His father was a doctor who played the sax.

You could say the music was in him from the start.

Award winning producer David Porter and White became friends when they were just kids.

“Maurice and I were raised on the same street on Crump Boulevard and Third Street,” he said.

White joined the Ramsey Lewis Trio in the mid-1960’s then created Earth, Wind & Fire with his brother Verdine.

“He saw what he wanted to contribute through music and he was able to deliver on that, very few people are able to take vision and make it become respected all over the world. He’s one of those few individuals.”

Earth, Wind & Fire scored some of the biggest hits of the 70’s including “Shining Star”, “Got To Get You Into My Life,” and “After The Love Has Gone.”

He never forgot Memphis and worked with Porter, who created an organization to help young people get involved in music.

“He created this booklet for young folk to read and understand his ideas and concepts about how to write songs and create a band of performance value,” said Porter.

In the early 1990’s, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, but he remained active as a producer and songwriter.

“He could make music, and talk to you in a way that was so uniquely and powerful.”

Maurice White died in his sleep Wednesday night.

He was 74-years-old

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15 Unique Tennessee City Names

Tennessee has some pretty crazy town names, and we scoured the internet to find 15 that are SURE to get you giggling. We bet the people there are crazy-kind and nice; also we’re pretty sure they have a great sense of humor. Can you imagine telling folks from out of town that you’re from Soddy Daisy? We love it. Tennessee, you got character.

15) Armathwaite: Named by Alwyn Maude in the late 19th century, Armathwaite has a century old tinge to the title.

14) Screamer: You can take this one as you will.

13) St. Bethlehem: We have one question – how many churches are actually in St. Bethlehem…? Do they have a lot on principal? Or do they rise above expectation?

12) Bone Cave: This is eerie.

11) Hanging Limb: This one is eerier.

10) Mousetail Landing: Actually a ghost town now, there’s said to be structures still standing underneath the lake.

9) Striggersville: Sounds kind of close to, “Triggerville,” which makes us feel like the second amendment is held up quite solidly here.

8) Lovejoy: All the happiness here. What a great place to raise optimistic babies!

7) Cash Point: We doubt this is where you go to make your millions, but the town looks pretty sweet.

6) McMinnville: Say this three times fast. It’s like the Mississippi of Tennessee.

5) Walter Hill: Located in Rutherford County, we think you could pretty solidly name your child after this lovely little town.

4) Ozone: From the name, we’re guessing Cumberland County really cares about the environment.

3) Krapp Springs: Well…we don’t have much to say about this one. Except we’re sure that everyone has a solid sense of self-confidence over here.

2) Trenton: This may not be the weirdest name on our list, but they have the largest teapot collection in the world.

1) Lakesite: Yes, you’re right! There IS a lake in Lakesite!

15 MORE Tennessee Towns With Names That Are Too Bizarre For Words


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Tennessee Lawmakers Drop “Atomic Bomb” of Politics

Tennessee lawmakers on Thursday joined four other states in calling for a national convention on amending the U.S. Constitution to bring about limits to federal power — what one supporter touted as the “atomic bomb of politics.”

The resolution sponsored by Republican Rep. Sheila Butt of Columbia passed on a 59-31 vote in the House. The Senate previously voted 23-5 in favor of the measure. The governor does not have veto power over resolutions passed by the Tennessee General Assembly.

Tennessee joins Alabama, Alaska, Florida and Georgia in approving the measure. A total of 34 states would need to pass the resolution for the convention to be called.

Republican Rep. Judd Matheny of Tullahoma, a supporter of the measure, said the resolution should serve as a signal to the federal government that state legislatures are serious about wanting a greater say.

“This is the atomic bomb of politics,” Matheny said. “The federal movement must know the states have mobilized, and we have put an atomic bomb on a plane and it is flying over the District of Columbia. And if they don’t listen, then we’re going to get done what needs to get done.”

Butt said the convention would be limited to focusing on putting additional fiscal and jurisdictional restraints on the federal government and to urge term limits for members of Congress. But opponents voiced concerns that a constitutional convention could quickly overstep those bounds and seek to changes to religious and gun rights.

“They’re going to do things contrary to what we believe in Tennessee,” said Rick Womick, R-Murfreesboro. “You’ve got 50 other players in this game and they’re not going to be thinking like us in Tennessee. They’re not going to send legitimate delegates with legitimate qualifications to these conventions.

“We’re going to be outnumbered,” he said. “As far as I know, Colorado’s going to send folks that are going to be high.”

House Democratic leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley questioned the rationale for trying to overhaul the Constitution.

“They put everything at risk here,” Fitzhugh said. “This thing doesn’t need to get legs. This is the fabric of our nation that would be fooling with.”

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Lawsuit Seeks Gay Marriage Ban

A second lawsuit has been filed in Tennessee challenging the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling overturning bans on same-sex marriage.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in Bradley County. It says the U.S. Supreme Court cannot overturn a law and then decide what the law should be. That should be up to the state legislatures, the lawsuit says.

The case challenges the same-sex marriage decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, when the justices ruled 5-4 that a definition of marriage as one man and one woman was unconstitutional and that same-sex couples could marry.

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No New Security Money for Motlow

Gov. Bill Haslam’s Education Budget for the coming fiscal year doesn’t include requested funding for added security at the State’s Community and Technical Colleges. The Board of Regents had asked for $10 million to beef up campus security at it’s 13 Community Colleges and 27 Technical Colleges. Haslam’s $390 Million Higher Education Budget slashed the request. The Tennessean reports most Regents’ Schools will still add security features using existing funds.

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TBI’s Most Wanted Captured

An alleged sex offender on the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s Top Ten Most Wanted List has been captured by police.

Officials say John Lamb was arrested in Rutherford County Thursday afternoon, about an hour after he was added to the Top Ten Most Wanted List.

TBI officials say Lamb was caught after La Vergne police officers spotted him walking down Old Nashville Highway.

Lamb is accused of aggravated rape and incest. The TBI says he fled on foot after a relative witnessed him sexually assaulting a minor family member.

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